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UK ebook sales flounder as interest in print copies rebounds

Book sales in the UK are on the rise, but not because of ebooks. Figures for 2016 released by the Publishers Association show a 7 percent rise over 2015, the largest year-over-year growth in a decade. Physical book sales were up 8 percent, however ebook sales fell by 3 percent to £538 million. The biggest contributor to the drop? What the industry calls “consumer ebooks” — novels, autobiographies and the like — which slipped 17 percent to £204 million. As The Guardian reports, the numbers suggest a shift back towards printed books. We spend much of our time on smartphones, laptops and tablets, so for many reading is an opportunity to disconnect.

“There is generally a sense that people are now getting screen tiredness, or fatigue, from so many devices being used, watched or looked at in their week,” Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association said. “[Printed] books provide an opportunity to step away from that.”

That’s not to say ebooks don’t have a place in the industry. So-called “digital sales” increased by 6 percent to £1.7 billion, and now account for 35 percent of industry revenue. That’s mostly due to academic journals and professional books, which climbed 6 percent to £277 million in 2016. The ebook market is important for smaller authors who want to self-publish or write novella-length works. That breadth of titles, some of which you’ll never find in a brick-and-mortar store, is part of what makes ereaders so attractive. If nothing else, today’s numbers show that the two formats can happily coexist, facilitating readers in different, but equally valuable ways.

Source: The Publishers Association, The Guardian


Inmates used smartphones to swap child porn in prison

Prosecutors have charged a group of inmates at a federal prison in New Jersey for downloading child porn from the dark web to their smuggled phones, according to NBC News. They even stored videos and photos that show kids, including babies and toddlers, being sexually abused in a cloud account they all shared. While the prosecutors announced charging five people to the public — and all five were imprisoned for child pornography — one of them secretly collaborated with the investigation.

Based on the info they got from the wire their mole wore, the group employed lookouts positioned in every stairwell that can notify them when a housing unit’s corrections officer leaves. Since it’s a low-security prison, they didn’t have to worry about more than one guard, but they still hid their phones carefully in light fixtures, closets, under their lockers and in jacket linings.

Feds named Anthony Craig Jeffries, who’s serving 14 years for distributing child porn, as the group’s ringleader. He reportedly purchased a phone for around $900 to $1,000 and then rented it out to inmates for anywhere between $4 to $10 an hour. Jeffries and the other three were officially charged after the mole got them talking about the videos and images they were downloading from the dark web.

This is far from the first time inmates were able to hide machines from guards and use them for nefarious purposes while behind bars. Back in 2015, two inmates in an Ohio prison fixed decommissioned computers and hid them in the ceiling. They used the computers to take out credit cards under other prisoners’ names, create access cards for restricted areas and to download porn.

Source: NBC News


Spotify Turns to Blockchain Technology to Pay More Royalties to Artists

Spotify has announced its acquisition of blockchain technology company Mediachain Labs to help it reward online content owners with royalty payments.

The news, first reported by VentureBeat on Wednesday, was relayed via a Spotify press release which has since been removed from its website, explaining that the purchase of the New York-based startup was aimed at facilitating Spotify’s “journey toward a more fair, transparent and rewarding music industry for creators and rights owners”.

Mediachain is responsible for the creation of an open source peer-to-peer database and protocol for registering, identifying, and tracking creative works online. The blockchain component aims to help creators and rights holders prove they are the owner of a piece of work and receive due payment.

Spotify has faced legal trouble in the past over its failure to pay artists and publishers, which is said to be down to difficulties it has had in working out who to pay, a problem which relates especially to smaller artists and labels.

Last month, Spotify reached a $30 million settlement with a publishing group over unpaid royalties and agreed to put in place a system that guaranteed a “reasonable effort” would be made to match all music streams with creators and rights owners.

Spotify recently passed 50 million paid subscribers. The Mediachain acquisition deal – the terms of which were not disclosed – appears to be part of the company’s plan to gain wider support from the creative community as it gears up to become an initial public offering on the stock market sometime next year.

Tag: Spotify
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DJI grounded its drones in Iraq and Syria to lock out extremists

The most recognizable name in drones has reportedly stepped in to help the United States in its ongoing war on terror. As The Register reports today, Shenzhen-based DJI — makers of the ever-popular Phantom and Inspire series quadcopters — quietly created software-based no-fly zones over large parts of Iraq and Syria where ISIS fighters have been known to strap improvised bombs to commercial drones.

The NFZs were first spotted by drone threat analyst Kevin Finisterre of Department 13, who noticed the company had updated its DJI Go piloting and photography app to include a number of geofenced areas in the region. DJI already maintains a large database of NFZs to prevent hobbyists from straying into airport flight paths, military bases, historic sites, sporting arenas and other places where drones are explicitly banned. The new geofenced areas, however, only appeared in late February — around the same time Finisterre notes that Iraqi troops backed by the US were mounting an offensive in Mosul. Two of the NFZs, which Finisterre has uploaded to GitHub as a Google Earth KML file, went live on February 27th and cover all of Mosul.

On the other hand, as MIT Technology Review notes, it’s unclear whether geofenced NFZs will actually stop extremists from weaponizing quadcopters and other remote-controlled flying machines. In the case of DJI equipment, a knowledgeable coder could likely circumvent the geofence with a software hack, and many of the devices used by ISIS are homebrewed or cobbled together from parts to begin with. And, of course, there’s also the question of whether the NFZs affect Iraqi forces’ own countermeasures.

DJI has yet to publicly comment on the anti-terror NFZs, but in the past it has issued a blanket statement on the use of its devices for illegal activity. “The use of consumer-drone technology to harm anyone is deplorable,” the company wrote after one of its drones was allegedly involved in an attack last year. “Any loss of life or injury in such a manner is tragic. Those who carry out such acts should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Source: The Register


Two men admit involvement in the TalkTalk 2015 hack

Two men involved in 2015’s TalkTalk hack have pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey court in London. Matthew Hanley, a 22-year-old from Tamworth, Staffordshire, admitted to three offences under the Computer Misuse Act, including the TalkTalk hack itself and obtaining and supplying files that would “enable the hacking of websites to others.” He also confessed to supplying a spreadsheet, containing TalkTalk customer details, so that others could commit fraud. Conner Douglas Allsop, also from Tamworth, pleaded guilty on March 30th to assisting fraud and sharing a file that could help other hackers. Both men will be sentenced on May 31st.

The Metropolitan Police said Hanley was an early suspect in his investigation. He was arrested in October 2015, and while officers were able to seize his computer, they contained little information because the hacker had either used encryption or wiped them clean. Police turned to Hanley’s social media accounts and discovered conversations about his involvement in the hack, including the steps he had taken to delete any incriminating data. They also found a connection to Allsopp — Hanley had asked him to sell the TalkTalk customer data in the hope of making a tidy profit.

Police arrested Allsopp in April last year. They showed him the chat logs and the 20-year-old subsequently admitted that he had tried, unsuccessfully, to sell the customer data and information about TalkTalk’s vulnerabilities. “Hanley thought that he was being smart and covering his tracks by wiping his hard drives and encrypting his data,” Andy Gould, detective chief inspector for the Met’s ‘Falcon’ cyber crime unit said. “But what our investigation shows is that no matter how hard criminals try to conceal their activity, they will leave some kind of trail behind.”

Last December, a 17-year-old hacker was sentenced to a 12-month youth rehabilitation order for his involvement in the hack. He had used an SQL mapping tool to identify a vulnerability in TalkTalk’s website, which he then published online. The teenager was punished for multiple offences though, including cyberttacks against Manchester and Cambridge universities. Daniel Kelley, described as the “mastermind” behind the TalkTalk hack, plead guilty to hacking offences that same month. He’s being charged for fraud, blackmail and money laundering. To date, police have arrested six individuals in relation to the cybercrime.

TalkTalk’s reputation was battered by the scandal. The internet, phone and TV provider was fined £400,000 by the Information Commissioner Office and incurred costs of roughly £42 million following the breach. Chief executive Dido Harding is due to step down next month, making way for Tristia Harrison, currently managing director for TalkTalk’s consumer division. The company tried to shake its battered image with a company-wide reboot last year, which included new packages, guarantees and a fresh marketing campaign. Slowly, the provider seems to be recovering — and soon, it seems, this whole episode will finally be behind them.

Source: Metropolitan Police


NASA is running out of functional spacewalk suits

NASA already spent over $200 million on developing a next-gen spacesuit, but it’s still years away from conjuring up a working unit. That’s a bigger problem than you might think, because according to NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), the agency is quickly running out of (PDF) functional suits needed for spacewalks. The iconic white suits you see the ISS crew wearing today are the same units made for astronauts 40 years ago. They were designed to last for only 15 years, and while most of them still work, they’re already riddled with issues that make them risky to use.

Some astronauts said their eyes felt like they were burning inside the suit, while others found their gloves too easily damaged. One of the most serious incidents, though, happened in 2013, when one astronaut almost drowned during a spacewalk after the cooling system in his backpack flooded his helmet with water. That broken life-support backpack is but one of the many NASA can’t use anymore: only 11 of the 18 original units remain.

The OIG’s report says it’s concerned about the possibility that NASA’s remaining units won’t last until the station retires in 2024. It’s also worried that the agency’s next-gen design won’t be ready before then, especially since the agency cut its development’s funding. It’ll be an even bigger problem if the orbiting lab gets extended until 2028. To make sure the issue won’t affect future ISS crew members, the OIG says NASA’s human exploration unit needs a “formal plan for design, production and testing” of its next-gen spacesuits. It also recommends conducting a study comparing the costs of maintaining its current set of aging units to the costs of developing and testing a new one.

Source: NASA Office of Inspector General (PDF), AP


Google Trips gets more features for an even smoother vacation

Why it matters to you

If your existing travel-assistant app hinders rather than helps, then you might want to vacation with Trips next time around.

Summer’s just around the corner so it’s a safe bet plenty of you are already eyeing the sun cream, dusting off the barbecue, and shopping for new shades.

You might even be firing up Google’s travel-assistant Trips app to help you get the most out of your upcoming vacation. For those not in the know, Google Trips is a cross-platform app designed to help you plan and organize your … well … trips. It does this by first pulling relevant information from your Gmail inbox before laying it out in various informational tabs, namely Reservations, Getting Around, Saved Places, Food & Drink, and Need to Know. It also offers up lots of ideas on what to see and do once you reach your destination.

Having had a few months to chew over feedback following its September 2016 launch, and just in time for when most people are gearing up for a getaway, the web giant has rolled out an update for Google Trips aimed at making the app easier to use and even more useful.

First up, you can now share all your various reservations for a particular trip in a single tap. You might want to forward all the information to your travel partner, travel buddies, or kids if it’s a family vacation, so now all you have to do is hit the arrow top right and select the recipients. This beats digging up individual hotel, flight, and travel reservations one by one, as you had to do before.

Travel plans have a tendency to change just before you set off, and Trips now takes this into account. Emily Fifer, Google’s product manager of Google Trips, explains: “For those last-minute or spontaneous changes, we built in a feature that lets you quickly update and add new details for flight, hotel, car, and restaurant reservations, even when you don’t have an email confirmation.” To do this, simply tap the “+” button bottom right in the Reservations section and enter the appropriate information.

With Wednesday’s update, Trips can now pull relevant bus and train reservations from your emails to add to your itinerary. Fifer notes in her blog post that more than three million rail and bus reservations are made by travelers every week worldwide, so the decision to incorporate them into Trips is something of a no-brainer.

For many users, Trips’ strong point is its ability to pull useful recommendations for things to see and do from its vast trove of existing data, so if you’ve never tried a travel-assistant app but want to check one out, now’s the time to try out Trips, available for both Android and iOS.


DJI could be about to unveil its smallest drone yet

Why it matters to you

DJI has scored multiple hits with its drone offerings to date so we can’t wait to see what it unveils at next month’s New York City event.

Drone giant DJI sure has been busy lately.

In the last few weeks alone it’s launched the Phantom 4 Advanced, unveiled the full specs of its first-person-view drone goggles, and teamed up with Hasselblad to build what it describes as “the world’s first 100-megapixel integrated aerial photography platform.”

And now it’s prepping for a special event in New York City on May 24.

An invitation sent out to media outlets on Wednesday gives little away. “Seize the moment,” it says in large, bold letters beneath some colorful light trails. Smaller text at the bottom has DJI teasing a “big announcement,” with the word “big” in all caps.

With the emphasis on size, you might be tempted to believe DJI is preparing to unveil a drone of humongous proportions, a massive beast the size of a helicopter with propellors to match, or thereabouts. But going by recent internet chatter prompted by apparently leaked images glimpsed on several Chinese DJI-focused forums, the company’s big announcement is more likely to be about a very small drone.

The Shenzhen-based drone maker recently scored a hit with its diminutive Mavic machine that wowed reviewers as much for its compact size as its myriad of features, though the rumored incoming quadcopter would be even smaller.

It’s rumored that the new drone will be called “Spark” and come without a controller. With its asking price expected to be lower than that of the Mavic, it could go up against the likes of the Yuneec Breeze or the Parrot Bebop 2.

While there are plenty of particularly small toy drones on the market, DJI could unveil something more powerful with a decent camera and impressive specs. There certainly appears to be an interest among consumers for such a machine, evidenced by, for example, the solid backing given to the tiny Kudrone during its recent Indiegogo campaign. However, the Kudrone is more of a selfie drone, though it’s possible the Spark, if it exists, could target the same market.

At this stage, it’s fair to say that there’s no concrete evidence that DJI is about to launch its own little flying machine, but check back on May 24 and we’ll let you know the true size of its “big” announcement.


If you’ve never considered a cruise before, you will now

Why it matters to you

Cruise ship companies are always looking to outdo each other with attractions, but this could be hard to top.

Go-karting is awesome fun wherever you do it, but have you ever thought of hitting the gas on the deck of a luxury cruise ship in the middle of the ocean? Now that’d be something to tell your buddies about when you’re back on dry land.

The world’s first ship-based go-kart track — wait, let’s just say that again: the world’s first ship-based go-kart track — is coming soon to Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest boat, the Norwegian Joy.

Passengers hopping aboard for the ship’s maiden voyage this summer will find the two-level Ferrari-branded racetrack “at the top of the ship,” the company says, and from the images showing the planned design, it looks pretty darn crazy. Hopefully crashing off the track won’t mean a life-threatening dip in the ocean.

Whether you race your whole family or the folks you just dined with at dinner, having a go-kart track on a cruise ship looks likely to risk leaving all the other amenities wondering if the boat sailed empty.

Oh, and we’re assuming the miniature motors will be electric, for the noise and fumes from regular karts would surely cause a mutiny on the high seas among any passengers who were hoping for a more restful vacation.


The company is targeting moneyed Chinese travelers with its new boat, which looks set to be one of the most luxurious liners ever to set sail. Catering to nearly 4,000 guests, the wealthiest passengers can stay in “concierge staterooms … with luxurious en suite amenities and the services of a dedicated concierge to make arrangements on board, from entertainment to dining.”

As you’d expect, the boat is going big on cutting-edge tech too, with the “Galaxy Pavilion” home to a good chunk of it. If you’re able to pull yourself away from the racetrack, you can have some fun in the pavilion with virtual reality experiences and interactive video walls. You’ll also find interactive simulators designed to “dazzle passengers with real-time 3D graphics, 360- degree surround sound and multi-sensory special effects, while flight and car simulators will let guests take flight or take to the road for an adrenaline-filled experience,” the cruise company says on its website, though really, who wants a driving simulator when you’ve got the real thing out on deck?


BlackBerry KEYone gets exclusive launch at London’s Selfridges


BlackBerry Mobile’s new QWERTY slab will be available for a limited time from the high-end Oxford Street department store.

BlackBerry Mobile has announced that its new KEYone smartphone has gone on sale exclusively, for a limited time, at London’s Selfridges department store on Oxford Road. Today’s launch means QWERTY fans can pick up the phone more than a week early at the store, ahead of its nationwide launch at Carphone Warehouse on May 5. In Europe, the KEYone will launch on “the majority” of major carriers, the company says.

Selfridges is selling the KEYone for the standard retail price of £499, which gets you a phone with classic BlackBerry design influences, a full QWERTY keyboard and BlackBerry’s security and productivity-focused software, atop Android 7.1 Nougat

Speaking at the BlackBerry KEYone launch event at Selfridges, Johnathan Young, UK Country Manager for BlackBerry Mobile said “We are delighted to launch the BlackBerry KEYone first in the UK with Selfridges. Selfridges, voted world’s best department store three times consecutively have been a longtime supporter of BlackBerry. Our retail strategy is to be where our customers are and, as a multichannel retailer dealing in the premium end of the market, Selfridges reflects BlackBerry KEYone’s identity in the smartphone market.”

“We want to congratulate BlackBerry Mobile on the UK launch of the BlackBerry KEYone.” said Bosse Myhr, Selfridges Director of Technology, Home and Menswear “We are thrilled to be the first UK retailer to offer customers the BlackBerry KEYone at our flagship Oxford Street store and provide them with a premium smartphone that aligns with their unique and discerning style.”

Today’s London launch marks the global debut of the KEYone, which is expected to hit other markets in May.

More: BlackBerry KEYone hands-on preview

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